A Simple Device For Helping Premature Babies Breast-Feed

The $1 Nifty Cup could improve nutrition for newborns worldwide.

When babies are born pre-term, they sometimes struggle to suck and swallow like fully formed infants. They can’t breast feed properly, which limits their food intake, ability to fight infection, and much else (human breast milk is a miracle concoction).


The solution is fairly obvious. Mothers can express milk into a cup and feed the baby by hand. But using any old cup isn’t ideal. The receptacle may have sharp edges. The flow of milk may overwhelm the child. And the cup may not be suitable to hold in one hand as mothers handle the baby in the other.

The Nifty Cup is designed to be ideal. Made of silicone, it has soft edges. It catches the spray of milk as it leaves the breast, saving every vital drop. And most importantly, it has a reservoir at the front, allowing babies to lap up milk rather than having to suck it down.

The $1 cup was developed jointly by teams at PATH, the international health nonprofit, the University of Washington School of Dentistry, and Seattle Children’s Hospital. It was recently licensed to Laerdal Global Health, a nonprofit company that plans to start selling it in developing countries starting this October.

“It’s hard for pre-terms to suck and breathe and swallow all at the same time,” says Patricia Coffey, at PATH. “This way, they have a longer and more effective feed and they’re not as tired feeding. They can grow as opposed to using all their energy trying to get milk to survive.”

It’s estimated that up to 7.6 million preterm infants in Africa and Asia have difficulty breastfeeding. In addition, babies born with cleft palates and to mothers with HIV–who need to have their milk heat-treated–may also have need for the Nifty Cup, Coffey says.

Human breast milk is nutritious, helps babies fight infections, and even lays the basis for a successful gut “microbiome.” Breast-fed babies may also be more intelligent and successful in life than those not breast-fed, a large study from Brazil–a country obsessed with breast-feeding–recently found.


Laerdal plans to sell the cup as part of a larger suite of products helping women to breast-feed.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.